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30th Jul 2016

Controversial data-sharing deal to get the go-ahead

  • The agreement has been pushed through at dizzying speed, according to critics in the European Parliament (Photo: Antje Wildgrube)

EU home affairs ministers are set to give their backing to a data-sharing agreement that would allow EU states to give one another automatic access to genetic records, fingerprints and traffic offences as well as see national police operating across borders.

Today (12 June) the 27 member states are expected to approve the transposition of the so-called Prüm Treaty into EU law-books – a move aimed at tracking down serious crime suspects and terror groups.

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Under the deal, a member state will gain access to the "reference data" in the DNA files of another member state, with the power to conduct automated searches by comparing DNA profiles. Reference data will not contain any information directly identifying the person.

In some cases such as sport events or European Council meetings, however, member states will also share personal data of the suspects.

In addition, national police may enter another EU state's territory and operate alongside their colleagues, while carrying their usual service weapons and wearing their own national uniforms.

The initial push for stronger EU-wide security legislation came from Germany, the current president of the bloc and co-author of the original Prüm Treaty - signed in 2005 as a seven-nation pact between Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Spain.

However, Berlin failed to secure one-to-one transposition of the original document to the EU law and some important parts will not apply across the entire EU bloc.

The main opposition came from the UK and Ireland, traditional advocates of having full control over the sensitive area of justice and home affairs.

Following their opposition, a scheme to allow hot pursuit - where police officers cross borders without asking permission from the host country - has been removed. Apart from that, the new slimmed-down document does not mention air marshals boarding foreign planes, something also allowed under the Prüm Treaty.

But despite the scope of the data-sharing deal being significantly reduced, the UK is trying to keep the back door open.

One UK diplomat told EUobserver London would like to adopt the deal under the so-called "general approach" decision-making mechanism instead of "political agreement". "Political agreement means firm and definitive yes", a diplomat said, adding the country would like to have some room for change after the deal is scrutinized by its parliament.

MEPs' reservations

Meanwhile, some MEPs have also expressed doubts about the possible adoption of the seven-nation data-sharing pact, saying it was discussed at "dizzying speed".

"The entire process is a complete scandal", a British liberal Sarah Ludford said, adding the deal has been "cooked up by national officials outside the EU...and laundered by the Brussels' machinery on the basis of take it or leave it".

According to UK conservative MEP Syed Kamall "the Prüm Treaty has been a dangerous pet project of the German presidency. In forcing it through, the Germans have ignored the views of the European Parliament and the concerns of the EU data protection chief".

Mr Kamal has called on the British government to veto the proposals, arguing that "we are sleepwalking into a Big Brother Europe while our government stands idly by."

MEPs have also urged the EU capitals to strengthen the confidentiality of personal data under their new deal. Although some provisions of the Prüm Treaty are protective, they cannot be the only data protection umbrella, a French socialist MEP Martine Roure said.

But the governments - still enjoying full sovereignty over the justice and home affairs area - have turned down MEPs' suggestions, with one EU diplomat saying "any change would upset the balance of the treaty".

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